family on hike

It’s fun to spend time away from the hustle and bustle of the city, exploring trails in your favorite nature park, mountain range or backcountry. But nature can also be unpredictable and dangerous, especially if you’re unprepared or inexperienced. A beautiful day in the mountains can turn into a nightmare very quickly.  Whether you’re an experienced mountaineer or you just want to ride your bicycle in a peaceful setting for a few hours, it’s best to plan ahead and be prepared for whatever you may encounter along the way.

Before you embark on any new activity, always check with your doctor to make sure you’re physically fit enough. It can be difficult to admit when we’re no longer able to do certain things, but it’s important to stick within your doctor’s guidelines for your health and abilities. And before you set out on any adventure, familiarize yourself with the terrain. It’s safest to travel in well-known areas, with clearly marked and well-groomed trails.

Based on advice from the US Forest Service, here are some suggestions regarding your time on the trail:

1. Always tell someone your plans. This includes the route you plan to take and when you plan to return. This way, in case of an emergency, they can call for help and assist emergency personnel in locating you.

2. Never travel alone. Again, in case of emergency, you never want to be left alone in the wilderness. If you’re going to a remote area, it’s best to travel in a group of at least four people. That way, if one person gets injured and can’t continue on, another person can remain with the injured while the other two travel out to get help.

3. Bring appropriate clothing and gear. The temperature can fluctuate in the wilderness—always be prepared for warm and cold conditions. It’s best to dress in layers that can be removed as needed. Also, wear sturdy shoes, sunglasses, hat, and even a helmet when necessary. Bring a first aid kit and emergency supplies, such as a compass (or GPS), matches, an emergency blanket, and a mirror and whistle in case you need to signal for help. Depending on your activity, don’t forget supplies for emergency equipment repairs such as spare tires, a tire pump, extra shoe laces, etc.

4. Bring enough water for your trip. If safe drinking water isn’t available along the trail, make sure you pack in all of the water you’ll need to stay hydrated. If there are streams or lakes along the way, don’t drink the water without treating or filtering it first. Otherwise, it could make you very sick.

5. Be aware of the weather. Check the weather reports before you leave and plan accordingly. If thunderstorms or severe weather is predicted, you may want to plan your outing for another day, or at the very least, be prepared for the conditions.

6. Do warm-up exercises before you begin. Stretching will help your body get ready for the activity by increasing your flexibility and warming up your muscles.

7. Travel at a comfortable pace. This isn’t about arriving the fastest—it’s about enjoying the journey. Don’t set a fast pace that will exhaust you. Let the slowest or least-experienced person in your group set the pace. And if necessary, take breaks and rest along the way. Appreciate the scenery!

8. Try to finish your trip before sunset, unless you plan to camp along the way. It’s dangerous to explore trails in the dark. You’re more likely to fall and get injured.

9. Avoid alcohol while on the trail. Alcohol can affect your balance and judgment, increasing your risk of falling. You need to be alert and aware of your surroundings, especially along a slippery trail or the edge of a cliff.

10. Know the rules regarding pets. Many national and state parks prohibit dogs. Some trails allow pets but require them to be on a leash. If your dog accompanies you, plan on extra water for her or him to drink and make sure she or he is wearing a collar with tags.

When you are well-prepared for your adventure, your time on the trail can be refreshing and fun. And even if you encounter unexpected conditions or events, you should be able to remedy the situation quickly and continue to enjoy your excursion. Happy trails!